Canada’s North – A Balancing Act



I wanted my very urban students to feel a greater connection with the land – where meat, fruit, vegetables, fish come from. I want them to see Canada as a broad and deep land full of opportunity and potential. Among the lower mainland, here in the southwest corner of BC, the north can seem like a harsh, foreign landscape with little to offer. I wanted my students to know the history of boom/bust economies in resource rich communities and specifically, a sense of the gold fever that swept through the Klondike in the 1890’s.

I wanted students to see the north as a place of opportunity. I wanted our students to wrestle with the pros and cons of resource development in the north – from various perspectives – First Nations, employment, environment and even future generations. What could sustainable northern development look like? This is the central question our students wrestled with.


We began by flying to Whitehorse from Vancouver. We camped for 3 days at Muktuk Adventures, a dog-sledding outfit. We learned the role of dogsledding in the north, went canoeing on the Takhini River, recited the poems “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” at the MacBride Museum. We also spent two full days with tanner Steve Cooper. He has a large property on the Yukon River where he built his own log cabin – 2 of them, actually. He showed us his method and equipment for ice fishing, hunting bison, cariboo and deer, showed us the native plants he is nurturing and talked to us about the changing growing season because of climate change.

We travelled 7 hours north to Dawson City where we shifted our focus to mining and the environment. We learned about the enormous dredges and how effective, but destructive they were. We spoke with engineers who described in detail how the old dredges were still placer mining, yet different than hand panning in the enormous volume of dirt running through the operation. We met with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people in the Dawson area. We rode a paddlewheeler down the Yukon River and learned of its importance in bringing goods to the Dawson region. Once the Klondike Highway was built, the paddlewheeler’s important shrunk. We hiked to the paddlewheeler graveyard.

We rode the White Pass and Yukon Train – the last narrow gauge railway in Canada. We learned about the routes to the gold fields in the 1890’s and how important the gold rush was to solidifying American/Canadian relationships and the establishment of law and order in the Canadian west and north.

The students are in pairs exploring an inquiry question. Each question is unique and addresses the larger question: “How does Canada’s north inform our national story?” Pair inquiry topics range from dog sledding, to pipelines, to First Nations perspectives on mining, to the impact of global warming on certain northern communities … and many others.

On June 17th, the students are presenting their learning at the main downtown branch of the Vancouver Public library. They are excited to share their learning with a much wider community.


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